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Taking a Good Bet


March 17, 2017 by Mike Hillwig

As I was building my team in Pittsburgh, I went through a ton of resumes. It seems that we were hiring in a pretty tight market. I had to look at what was available and try to build a good team with the resources the market would give me.

My senior recruiter, Cat, is pretty amazing. We work incredibly well together. She sent me a resume with a note that said “He’s really junior, but he’s pretty well spoken.” I looked at the resume and wondered why Cat was wasting my time.

I looked at this resume. It was for a recent college grad. He had zero experience and a three page resume for a little bit of volunteer work. But there was one thing that stood out to me. The guy attended the local SQL user group in Pittsburgh. I told my recruiter that we’d do a phone interview.

The candidate was incredibly well spoken. He had practically no experience, but he was able to tell me that he had met Matt Nelson, my friend who runs the Pittsburgh SQL User Group. That was a flag to me. This guy was willing to learn. That’s when I told Cat that I’d meet with the guy. I had no intention of hiring him, but someone needed to tell this kid that a fresh college graduate shouldn’t have a three page resume. If nothing else, I was going to give him some interviewing experience.

The day of the interview came and I flew to Pittsburgh to meet with several candidates. I saw that Cat had scheduled him for myself, my boss, and one of our managing directors. I told her that after my interview with him, we’d most likely cancel the other two. My boss understood. He knew I was trying to give the guy some interview experience.

I spent 30 minutes in a conference room with this college grad, asking about his experience, which was all volunteer work. Something sparked with me. He was smart and well spoken. At the end of the interview, I told him to have a seat and his next interviewer would be in. I wasn’t sure why, but something about this young guy stood out. He had no experience, which also meant he had no bad habits. He was a blank slate, someone I could train and develop. He was also someone I could put on the phone with my client because his communication skills were really good.

I went to my boss, handed him the folder and said “your turn!” My boss looked at me and said “Isn’t this the one you were going to cancel?” I looked at him and said “Just meet with him.” My boss looked at me. I looked back and said “There is something there.” My boss took the folder and walked into the conference room.

Thirty minutes later, my boss walked out and said “Keep going.” That’s when I dialed in our managing director.

Another thirty minutes later, the door of the conference room opened, and I showed out the candidate. I literally had no idea what to expect. I did her expect her to give me grief for having her interview such an inexperienced candidate. When I got back to my desk, I called our managing director. In her typical fashion, she was brief, blunt, and honest. “This one is a long term investment. Go ahead and hire him.”

I got back to Boston later in the week and met with my boss’ boss, Jeff. He was a little shocked when I told him that I’d greenlighted an offer on a fresh college grad with zero experience. We were hiring him for the overnight shift where he’d gain a ton of experience. Jeff trusts me and signed off on my decision.

Nine months later, I look back at this guy’s career with the company and try to count the number of times I’ve regretted hiring this young guy. That number is still zero. He’s young, hungry, and he wants to learn. That’s a trait you just can’t teach people. I can teach skills, which I have. Zero regrets. That’s when you know you made a good hire.